Building Bridges: Blue-Collar Labor and Evangelical Public Theology

The global market and human history rest on the shoulders of mundane, ordinary labor. Drawing on biblical and theological reflections on work and workers, this paper will lay the foundations for blue-collar inclusion in the task of public theology. Public theology is, in some respects, the act of building bridges between academic or church theology and public life. However, despite the importance and necessity of blue-collar work, such labor receives scant theological attention. Of course, work itself is a relatively unacknowledged theological topic (as numerous theologies of work observe, including Ben Witherington’s Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor, David Jensen’s Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work, and Miroslav Volf’s Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work), but even when work is theologically considered, the focus is on white-collar employment. The concerns of the business or corporate world claim almost exclusive rights to the public reflection of faith and work, with blue-collar labor being overlooked entirely (see David Miller’s God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement). This paper will lay a foundation for expanding evangelical public theological reflection by identifying the pre-requisite conditions for blue-collar inclusion in theologies of work.

This paper will first trace the development of the blue-collar/white-collar divide from its inception at the emergence of the division of labor, through the rapid industrialization and mechanization of labor. Alongside this history, it will identify the reasons for the oversight of blue-collar work, namely the theological emphasis on creativity, entrepreneurship, and personal fulfillment at work. Building on this foundation, this paper will identify the qualities necessary for public theology to engage with blue-collar workers and their work. To meaningfully engage with blue-collar concerns and realities, evangelical public theologians would need to develop a particular posture (reckoning with the underappreciation and inconsideration experienced by many blue-collar workers and locating with and for blue-collar workers), a particular set of goals (the cultivation of flourishing workplaces, including systems of genuine recognition, compensation, and freedom in the workplace), a particular theology of work (one that is values the grounded, dusty, mundane, and ordinary labor as reflecting the work of God), and a particular focus on liturgical formation (recognizing that blue-collar workers are formed more through these practices than through academic treatises).

While blue-collar labor has rarely been addressed by significant theological reflection, this paper will build on the insights of the few resources available, especially Tex Sample’s Blue Collar Resistance, in conversation with my own experience as a landscaper.

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